Friends remember 'OMatt'

Matthew Oscar Westley died Saturday while skiing Morningside Park

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— At the ski rental shop of SportStalker, a lonely white and green coffee mug sits below a window that frames a view of why Matthew Oscar Westley came to Steamboat Springs.

The coffee mug has "OMatt" inscribed on it in silver marker.

It belonged to the 23-year-old Estes Park native, who friends said lost his life Saturday doing what he loved to do more than anything ski.

"He loved skiing as much as he loved life," said Monty Holder, a close friend of Westley's, who also worked with him at the rental shop.

Westley was found dead at about 9:56 p.m. Saturday night by rescue personnel about 75 feet off Frying Pan, an intermediate trail on the upper mountain in Morningside Park.

Routt County Coroner Doug Allen said Westley fell forward into deep snow on a steep section of the slope and suffocated.

"He went straight down into the snow," Allen said. "He got covered and trapped in the snow where there is no oxygen. He was unable to move to uncover himself.

"It is a real unfortunate."

There were no signs of trauma, he said. Allen also ruled out an avalanche associated with the incident.

Westley had been skiing with four friends on Saturday when the tragedy occurred. Out of the group, Westley was the last skier to come down the trail.

The skiers were coming down a part of the mountain that was Westley's favorite, Holder said.

"He loved to jump off that rock," he said of the trail. "Some days, he would just do laps on that run, so he could jump off that rock."

Holder knew how deep the snow was that day. Holder had been snowboarding on the other side of Morningside Park.

"That same day near Sundown Lift I got off the trail and got stuck chest deep in a drift of snow," he said. "I was head up, thank God.

"It hurts me to think of my friend lying in the snow like that."

In the 72 hours preceding the death, the Steamboat Ski Area received 24 inches of new snow at mid-mountain and 32 inches at the summit.

The base depths of snow at the ski area on Saturday were 48 inches at mid-mountain and 55 inches at the summit.

Westley's friends said they initially did not believe anything was wrong when he did not show up at the bottom of the mountain, but when he did not show up to work at 4 p.m., concern set in.

"No one ever dreamed that anything was wrong," Holder said. "But when he did not show up for work, we knew something was wrong."

The ski resort was notified that Westley was missing at about 5:36 p.m.

A night search investigation was then conducted by 11 searchers from the Routt County Search and Rescue and Ski Patrol, who used lamps and flashlights.

Westley was pronounced dead at the scene.

The death for Holder, 53, has been hard for him to accept because he knew how good of a skier Westley was.

"The hardest part of this whole thing is the kid could ski," said Holder, who is in his fifth season working at SportStalker. "It is so hard to accept.

"I can go on and on about his skiing ability. That dude could ski. It is the biggest compliment I can give."

Ray LeRoy, 22, who also works for SportStalker, said he met Westley about four years ago.

"He was a hell of a skier," he said. "He is the one who showed me the mountain. Skiing was his life. He died doing what he loved most.

"Now, he is up there skiing chest-deep in powder."

On Monday night, the employees from Christy Sports gathered for a holiday party. During the event, Holder spoke of his friend on a night when many tears were shed.

"When he first came to work here, he came with two friends," Holder said. "Out of those three, he is the only one who stayed. He became part of a family working here. He became one of us.

"We are focusing on celebrating his life."

When Westley started working at SportStalker, he was given the nickname "OMatt," he said.

"We had four or five Matts working here," he said. "We gave him the nickname because his middle name is Oscar. He did not like it very much, but you don't to get to pick your name around here."

Westley was in his fourth season working in the rental department of SportStalker, which is located in Gondola Square, 2304 Apres Ski Way. He had been promoted to an assistant supervisor position.

"We will not only miss him professionally, but also personally," Holder said. "I loved that kid. I loved him. There are memories that will be with me for the rest of my life."

One memory that Holder will remember particularly did not happen on the

slopes, but on a

hike in September to Devil's Causeway.

"We went on a half-day hike," he said. "It was a marvelous day. I had him take a picture of me. I am going to send the picture to my mom, but now it means more than that."

In his stay in Steamboat Springs, Westley had taken classes at Colorado Mountain College.

"He wanted to earn a degree in hotel and resort management," he said. "He wanted to move to Lake Tahoe. He wanted to live the resort life."

On Friday, Westley will be buried in Estes Park.

"Everybody here lost a friend," LeRoy said. "It has been tough for everyone who knew him."

Westley's death is the first time in about three years that a skier has died on the mountain. During the 1996-1997 ski season, a skier died on the mountain due to a heart attack.

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